Stepping Up: Teacher pay raise and revenue worthy of support

By Shawn Hime

“Education is the key to building a better Oklahoma.”

That recent comment from Phil Albert, a Claremore business owner, a University of Oklahoma regent and a member of the Step Up Oklahoma coalition, was more than just a statement of fact. It was a much-needed message of hope for educators, families and communities.

A $5,000 teacher pay raise anchors the coalition’s recent recommendations to improve the state’s fiscal stability and economic competitiveness. Albert, BancFirst Executive Chairman David Rainbolt and many others involved in the coalition are longtime supporters of public education. They are among the countless Oklahomans frustrated with the legislature’s inability to pass a revenue plan needed to stabilize the budget and invest in a long-overdue teacher pay raise.

As coalition members have said repeatedly over the last few weeks, the time to pass a new budget plan and teacher pay raise is now. Consider:

  • Oklahoma teachers continue to leave the state and the profession for higher-paying jobs.
  • The number of college students pursuing an education degree is shrinking.
  • The 1,917 emergency teaching certificates issued for this school year is a record.
  • In the last four years, more than 75 percent of the state’s school districts have sought emergency teaching certificates to fill vacancies.
  • Class sizes are growing, and many districts have been forced to cut back on courses because they can’t find a qualified teacher.
  • Recent federal data show Oklahoma is falling even further behind states in our region and the nation in education investment. On average, our surrounding states invest nearly $1,700 more per student on education.
  • Surrounding states reached our current level of per-student education investment a decade ago.

All the statistics simply boil down to this: Thousands of children must learn to read, write and do math without the benefit of a highly qualified teacher. Many high school students are shut out of advanced level math and science classes or foreign language classes for lack of a teacher. We’re shortchanging our children, robbing them of opportunities to be better prepared for college and the workforce and crippling economic development efforts.

Oklahoma is in competition for businesses, jobs and families. A teacher pay raise is a strategic investment. Children –- and educators — in Oklahoma are worth just as much as those in other states, and our competitive standing as a state is hurt by the failure to ensure a high-quality, well-trained teacher for each and every student.

This is a crossroads moment. Oklahoma has a lot of catching up to do, and we applaud the Step Up Oklahoma’s coalitions collaborative efforts to push for new revenue as both a step up and a step forward. A $5,000 teacher pay raise will reward the state’s hard-working educators and help make Oklahoma school districts more competitive in the teacher labor market. A more stable state budget will enable future education investments to further close the education investment gap, ensuring the best days are ahead for our children and state.

Hime is executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.